BY CHERYL TAY
22 September 2011
What do you expect from a seven-time Formula 1 World Champion who is making his first public appearance in Singapore? A precious 10 minutes is all you get from him.
Fans gathered at the Paragon Shopping Centre’s atrium early, as they awaited the arrival of the legendary Michael Schumacher, who is driving for the Mercedes GP team.
Having arrived in Singapore on Tuesday, the 42-year-old German drove himself to the Mercedes-Benz event, as he usually drives himself around, even outside of the racetrack.
Greeted by a crowd of about 300, Schumacher waved to his fans with a bright and friendly smile, looking happy to be at the event.
When asked by the host to share what the greatest challenge is of night racing, compared to racing in the day, he answered: “’Challenge’ is probably the wrong word. It is more the sensation and the emotion because such a great job has been done in terms of lighting up the track.
“It’s very easy to see everything. But it’s the sensation of driving at night with the lights and the atmosphere and spectators; last year we enjoyed it (the race) and I certainly look forward to this year again.”
This weekend will be his second time racing on the Marina Bay street circuit, in his second comeback season.
After briefly answering a few more questions, there was a photo opportunity with the new Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class. Schumacher then signed some autographs for the fans – and left as quickly as he came.
One of his fans, 12-year-old Ethan Goodman, had taken his kart-racing helmet along to the event, praying that by a stroke of luck, he would be able to get Schumacher’s autograph on it.
And the German complied, much to his delight.
His mother, Mrs Felicia Goodman, said: “We try to go to these Formula 1 driver public appearances so that Ethan can get their autographs. Last year we managed to get Sebastian Vettel’s. When Ethan said he wanted to bring his helmet along I told him ‘Fat chance that Schumacher will sign it.’ But he did!”
“We couldn’t decide where to stand – either at the escalators where he came up from or this end. We were really very lucky that he randomly came over to where Ethan was standing and signed his helmet for him,” she added.
Last evening also saw another former champion, McLaren’s Jenson Button, meeting some of his fans in an event organised by his team’s corporate partner Johnnie Walker.
Like Schumacher, the 31-year-old politely answered questions from the host about his motor-racing upbringing, his rise to become F1 champion, and even his dietary habits.
Nothing revelatory, nothing out of the ordinary, but the dashing Briton showed why women swoon over him, as he flashed his winning grin frequently and exuded a warmth that, somehow, Schumacher lacked.
Perhaps it is because he spent a longer time with the fans – it was almost 30 minutes before he waved goodbye.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHIA HAN KEONG